Big Brothers, Big Sisters make big splash with kids at fishing tournament

(from left) Paul Fleming Sr., Sydney Chafe, John Weller, Paul Fleming Jr. posing with trophy for biggest fish caught, a 12-foot Hammerhead shark, at the 39th annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Fishing Tournament in Fort Lauderdale (Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel)

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Sydney Chafe may have taken home the first place trophy for catching and releasing a 12-foot hammerhead shark, but the 15-year-old angler said everyone was a winner at the 39th annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Fishing Tournament in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.

“Not to sound cheesy or anything but it’s true,” she said. “Of course, wherever [the shark] is out there, he’s a winner too.”

(from left) Paul Fleming Sr., Sydney Chafe, John Weller, Paul Fleming Jr. posing with trophy for biggest fish caught, a 12-foot Hammerhead shark, at the 39th annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Fishing Tournament in Fort Lauderdale (Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel)

The sophomore at G-Star School of the Arts in Palm Beach County was among more than 100 kids and adults aboard 19 boats that took part in the yearly bonding experience based at the Bahia Mar marina.

“We put a smile on their faces,” said tournament founder John Weller. “The [volunteers] bring the boats, the bait, the rods, the drinks and each kid is accompanied by a big brother or sister.”

For many children between the ages of 6 and 18 this was a first-time adventure, but there were some veteran boys and girls on board too.

Big brother Andrew Cilla brought Isaiah, 11, on his 26-foot boat for a fourth year. “It’s more about having fun,” Cilla said. “We ride around and all the kids operate the boat and I think they enjoy that more than fishing.”

Adam Covit, 39, has a unique perspective because he entered the program when he was 8 years old as a little brother and grew to become a big brother.  “As a kid it was very rewarding, I had fun,” he said. “As an adult it’s more rewarding to give back.”

The event ran from about 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with a pizza party and prizes for the biggest fish, smallest fish and the most fish caught.

Taking the top prize was not a first for Chafe, though, who started in the tournament when she was 6. “I have won for biggest fish three times before,” she said. “My first fish was a horse mackerel about 15 feet.”

Weller is throttling back his involvement after 39 years. He’s handing over the controls to Trevor Carroll, who has been participating for the past 10 years. “We’ve seen a very steady growth,” Carroll said. “But I think the biggest thing we’ve seen, really, is not leaving any kids on the dock, and that’s important.”

It means getting more boat owners and captains to volunteer their vessels and gear every year, he said. “We’d like to get it to where we can invite more and more kids,” he said. “We’d like to see more growth.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America describes the century-old organization as the largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network for children facing adversity.

For more information in Broward call 954-584-9990 or go online to bbbsbroward.org.

“I think it definitely boosts [kids’] confidence and self esteem,” Covit said. “They had a blast.”

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